Ales Valenta was named Czech Sportsperson of the Year in a ceremony at Prague's Hilton hotel on Saturday night. Valenta shot to fame in the Czech Republic when he won gold in freestyle aerial skiing at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, by performing a series of aerial turns never before achieved. Largely unknown a year ago, Ales Valenta was only chosen to carry the Czech flag at Salt Lake City because bigger stars were arriving later. His spectacular gold-medal win changed all that, and the aerial skier has become quite a celebrity. What was the highlight of Ales Valenta's year?
"The Olympics of course, but I think sport isn't the only thing in my life. There were many other different, important moments like the opening of a training park for aerial skiing and other things. My whole year has been very positive."
Decathlete and Czech Athlete of the Year, Roman Sebrle, who took gold at both the European Indoor and Outdoor Championships this year, came second in the Sportsperson of the Year poll. He was followed by cross-country skier Katerina Neumannova, who picked up bronze at the Winter Olympics and stands to receive two more medals, following the disqualification for drug-taking of two Russians who beat her in Salt Lake City.
The team prize at the Sportsperson of the Year awards went to the Czech Under 21 football team, who in May won the European Championships for the first time ever. Who could forget the magnificent display by goalkeeper Petr Cech, who saved two when the final went to penalties. At the awards ceremony, coach Miroslav Beranek took the opportunity to say a few thank yous.
"(Thanks to) all the team's players, the coaching team, everyone who helped us, football is a team game. I'd also like to thank Karel Brueckner, and I believe next year he'll be standing up here where I am now."
Karel Brueckner is of course the coach of the Czech national football team - let's hope the seniors shine as brightly in 2003 as the Under 21s did this year.
A week ago we reported that Czech ice hockey coach Slavomir Lener was having trouble assembling a squad for the Baltic Cup in Moscow, with almost 15 of his first-choice players unavailable. How satisfying it was therefore for Czech hockey fans to watch Lener's charges not only give a decent account of themselves but actually win the cup, for the second year in a row. The prize came down to the last game against Russia on Sunday, with the Czech Republic needing only a draw, which - at full time - they had achieved, with the score at 3:3. Under an unusual points system, the Czechs retained the crucial point, despite losing 4:3 in overtime, to a Russian side who have been their bogey team all year. The Baltic Cup is part of the Euro Hockey Tour, in which the Czech Republic trail leaders Finland by just one point.
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